French fancy: Why Emily in Paris is the escape fantasy we *all* need right now



I had two important Netflix encounters over the weekend. First I watched The Social Dilemma, which made me want to delete Instagram off my phone immediately. Then I watched Emily in Paris, which made me want to bury my phone in the ground so I could never reinstall the app. I watched five episodes without blinking. “It’s ridiculous,” I alerted my best friend. “You’re going to love it.”

Created by several of the brains behind Sex and the City and billed very much as its millennial heir, Emily in Paris tells the story of Emily (Lily Collins), a twenty-whatever marketing exec from Chicago, who fills in for her pregnant boss by moving to Paris. Seemingly overnight. There she grapples with hilarious cultural misunderstandings, attempts to charm wary French colleagues with her social media prowess, becomes an influencer (also seemingly overnight) and snogs a series of inappropriate men against a backdrop of Paris so exquisite you’d be forgiven for assuming the whole thing was green screen.

It’s a show that raises as many questions as it does impeccable Gallic eyebrows. Such as: on what planet does Lily Collins look like an ‘American hick’ and not an archetypal French girl? Is posting photos of strangers on the internet ok now? Can anyone tell these identical floppy-haired men apart? Are they all supposed to be different men, or did they hire one actor and brush his hair in different directions? Is all this to Parisians what Dick Van Dyke was to cockneys? And of course, the question that has plagued Darren Star productions since the beginning of time: I’m sorry, how much is she paid?

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But even if Emily’s life is about as hashtag-relatable as Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection, there is some pertinent social commentary wrapped up in all the layers of frothy tulle.

For one thing, it’s cheerfully (if only heteronormatively) sex-positive – though being asked to evaluate a 17-year-old’s shagging skills by his mother is still, um, de trop. For another, it raises interesting points about the digital media landscape and our always-on work culture. Whether Emily is falling over herself to socialise with her formidable boss Sylvie (Phillippine Leroy-Beaulieu from Call My Agent!, a French Netflix show about actual France, which you should definitely watch), or consoling her new friend Mindy (instantly loveable Ashley Park) on becoming a meme, the lines between work and play blur so completely that the only time Emily doesn’t seem to be on the clock is when she’s… on the job. As it were.

If New York was SATC’s ‘fifth character’ then it is social media, not Paris, that wins best supporting actor here. And it makes for painfully compulsive #content. Every time Emily holds her phone at arm’s length and pouts for validation, we squirm in recognition. Because Emily is us. Or if she’s not us, then she’s our sister, our friend, or someone whose career we’re fuelling daily with our likes and heart-eyes. She’s a better player than most (25k new followers in how many weeks?), but she’s still a victim of the game. Watching Emily selfie with her breakfast and broadcast her every move, we’re forced to recognise that a social media addiction is a bit like picking your nose. Feels good while you’re doing it, but embarrassingly un-chic to watch.

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However, the main gift Emily in Paris offers is the one we most need right now, and that’s an escapist fantasy. You know, the fantasy that maybe we could run off to France on a whim, force everyone to speak English for us, drink wine at lunchtime, experiment with recreational neck ruffles, get off with our new friend’s boyfriend multiple times without consequence and still win everybody over with our relentlessly sunshiney attitude and conveniently perfect hair.

Hell, forget the rest – ‘going to France’ is enough of an escapist fantasy right now. Knowing we can’t freely hop on a Eurostar without enduring a fortnight’s quarantine, it makes every double-cheek-kiss and glimpse of the Eiffel Tower feel like wafting a delicious snack in front of a zoo animal. Do Parisians feel the same about Eastenders? Hard to say.

It’s also hard to say whether we’d be quite so hooked on Emily in Paris if we weren’t still trudging through the tempête de merde of a global pandemic, but that’s beside the point. Because we are, and it sucks, and anything that can whisk us away to a sweeter place and stop us googling ‘vaccine how long’ for 10 blissful hours deserves to be a hit. It’s audiovisual candyfloss. A white towelling robe for the mind. It’s Animal Crossing with more expensive accessories.

And oh, what accessories they are. While our lives slouch back towards a wardrobe of ‘night sweatpants’ and ‘day sweatpants’, there’s something gleefully sci-fi about a world in which a rhinestone-studded Dior flat cap is legitimate office attire. Having the legendary Patricia Field as costume consultant ensures that every frame is a masterclass in outfit assembly. We might not have Emily’s thirsty career ambitions, but maybe this is the winter we’ll finally conquer layering!

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Look, nobody is saying it’s perfect television. It can’t fill the shoes of other candy-toned, extravagantly-wardrobed productions like [i]The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, The Bold Type[/i] and Sex Education. But until they’re back in our lives, I’m grateful for Emily in Paris. Like those synthetic pre-wrapped ‘croissants’ you get in packs of 12 from Lidl, it may not be the most authentic treat – but I’m wolfing it anyway. Bon appetit.



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